The global environmental situation is more critical than ever for man and nature. Scientists have been talking about the ecological dangers for years. Even children around the world and standing up to express their very real concerns about the future. The situation is urgent. The economic frenzy to produce and consume carries on for the benefit of a few and to the detriment of many. If the race continues to target short-term profits, the social impact, the threat to humanity itself and nature will be catastrophic. Profound and sustainable change requires social transformation. The status quo is untenable. As W. B. Yeats wrote a century ago, “Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold”.
The theme of the last edition of the Biennial Paper Fibre Art was Eco-sublime. With this new edition, we invite you to think about the urgent need for change if we are to avoid or at least mitigate ecological disaster.
Challenging the established order, proposing different ways of looking and being are often important features of artists’ work. Art can and must play a major role, encourage us to open our eyes and change our perception of things. Here, two artists from two continents are mentioned briefly, to provide food for thought. The Ghanaian artist, El Anatsui, works with recycled materials and objects that have passed through other people’s hands. The materials have a history and evoke the importance of connections. At the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, he made a sculpture out of wood called Erosion. The tall imposing sculpture bears inscriptions and symbols from his native Ghana and Nigeria. His decision to chainsaw the work, which left deep cuts, scattered pieces of wood at the base, destroyed the symbols of an ancient language, mirrors the deforestation in Brazil. Thus, he shows the violence of environmental destruction and the erosion of traditional cultures and languages. His monumental “tapestries” are made from bottle tops sown together with copper wire. They evoke the links between Europe, Africa and the United States with commercial trade in alcohol, sugar and slaves. They also represent the walls that are built in order to exclude some people, while they protect others. The tapestries vibrate and shimmer with the colours, diversity and ingeniousness that are specific to Africa. El Anatsui explains that art is a replica of life. As life is not fixed, but changing, he wants his works to be flexible and changing too, to have the capacity to adapt.
The American artist, Chris Jordan, decries mass consumption and the waste that it generates. He photographs waste and makes art works from it, inviting each of us to reflect on our own behaviour. As he shows, we all have a share of responsibility. He is interested in numbers, statistics, which often go beyond our comprehension. For example, the work Whale is composed of images of 50 000 plastic bags, the equivalent number of pieces of plastic floating on every square mile of the world’s oceans. Thus, he transforms data into art, showing how things are linked: the carbon footprint 1 000 miles from where we make our purchases, the social impact 10 000 miles from where we live that was caused by our consumer choices. He photographed young birds that died after ingesting plastic. These images were a precursor to his film Albatross (https://www.albatrossthefilm.com/). The film was screened on World Oceans Day in 2018. It is a hymn to the beauty of this mythical bird. By presenting a man-made tragedy caused by plastic waste, it is also an urgent call for change.
We invite international artists working with paper fibres to create new works of art that challenge the status quo and reflect on the urgent need to act and trigger “change”.